Mr Roche was speaking after a meeting with UK Secretary of State for DTI Alan Johnson, which focused on the Thorp plant and the Irish government’s concerns over its safety.

The leak of 83,000 litres of highly radioactive liquid in April was contained in the secondary containment facility at the site, and there was no release to the environment. Despite this, the plant itself remains closed and looks set to stay that way until March next year.

“The fact remains that the incident occurred, was classed as a Category 3 incident on the INES scale and the internal report on the incident compiled by the operator identified serious shortcomings in safety culture and practices at the Thorp plant,” Minister Roche said.

“The Thorp leak represents another chapter in the ongoing Sellafield Cycle of failure. A serious incident occurs, the investigation reveals serious safety failures and weaknesses, recommendations are drawn up and implemented, and further assurances given that the plant is safe. This pattern is untenable,” he added. “This serious incident provides further overwhelming evidence that it is time the UK took the hard decisions necessary to secure the safety and security of populations on both sides of the Irish Sea by bringing an end to reprocessing.”

Mr Roche welcomed the fact that the UK government was undertaking a review of Thorp operations, but said any review should encompass not only economic, but safety, security and environmental concerns as well.

In addition, Mr Roche has raised the matter with European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs to encourage European action to close the plant.

“The bottom line is that a leak of thisnature should motivate the Commission to respond appropriately. The Euratom Treaty is not solely concerned with promotion of the nuclear industry, it deals with obligations and responsibilities relating to safeguards. I would urge the Commission to be committed to all elements of the Treaty with equal passion,” he said.

The future of the reprocessing plant also casts doubt over Government plans to privatise the British Nuclear Group as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and safety regulators are understood to have told the government that the sale cannot go ahead until the issues at Thorp have been resolved.

By David Hopkins

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